Sashaying 20 feet above people’s heads, the model Jourdan Dunn looked devastatingly gamine in a vivid tangerine 60s swing coat. As taxi drivers, tourists and Londoners watched on, Burberry’s catwalk presentation was streamed live for all to see in London’s Piccadilly Circus on one of the famous advertising screens. The event (for that’s what it was) felt like Blade Runner’s futuristic new world, with crowds below watching models (now towering giants on the screen) swing their hips, pivot and smile.
Did it stop traffic? No, but it blew away the secrecy and exclusivity of the catwalk shows, starting a new way of thinking about how – and to whom – the collections should be shown. An estimated 1.2 million people saw the brand that week on the screen, a first for any label. But then, the august British institution is a pioneer, and one of the biggest luxury labels to harness the full power of the digital age.
While Burberry may be a historic British fashion house steeped in tradition, it is also an international fashion house whose goal is to make the classic thoroughly modern. Over the past decade, creative director Christopher Bailey has steered Burberry into the 21st century, embracing the opportunities of technology in the process. In doing so, he has made Burberry more accessible to millions of people, as well as setting new industry standards; the brand was the first to be awarded the Digital Innovation award by the British Fashion Council.
Even though Armani was the earliest to stream live from the catwalk in 2007, Burberry was the first (in spring/summer 2010) to stream its catwalk show live into 25 stores across the world. Its next step, a season later, went further. As models strutted down the runway, Burberry streamed live into five select stores across the world; customers watching were given 3D glasses while store assistants stood at the ready with iPads to take their orders. The result? The access to fashion was instantaneous, but Burberry also caught the attention and imagination of the very people who buy and wear the clothes, as opposed to just the industry insiders in the front row. It marked a new way of interacting with customers and added a bold new dimension to the shopping experience that consumers had never experienced before.
Christopher Bailey explains how he balances the values of a heritage brand with the advancement of new technology when talking about the spring/summer 2012 collection. ‘The collection is all about the most detailed handcrafted pieces and fabric innovation. The challenge was to communicate that digitally in dynamic and diverse ways – and I love balancing that world.’
Balancing that world, though, is about creating a fashion ‘experience’ for the customer that reflects Burberry’s rich past. The Art of the Trench – a site enabling anyone around the world to post photographs of themselves in a trench coat and have it uploaded on the site – launched in November 2009. It’s now so popular that it boasts 16.3 million page views in over 200 countries. Burberry’s Facebook page has the highest number of fans of any luxury fashion brand – 9.4 million viewers – with the brand using it as a way to gain vital feedback from the customer. And, of course, there’s Twitter; Bailey enthuses about how it’s ‘instantaneous. I love the idea that live streaming now takes so many forms.’ To this end, the music that accompanies the label’s catwalks shows is made available straight afterwards for download on iTunes and the Burberry YouTube channel.
Music is another area in which Burberry is setting new industry standards. Burberry Acoustic is a forum on the Burberry website which showcases emerging performers, chosen by Bailey himself. The enterprise also acts to help the performers identify their audience by tracking the ‘hotspots’ of country popularity.
Burberry’s supremacy in the world of the internet is influencing other fashion channels, too. Last year the British Fashion Council streamed live catwalk shows on screens in London Underground stations – and 37 designers streamed live into the Fashion Week tents – and believes it’s a way for young designers to become not just known, but established. Gareth Pugh was one of the first young designers to sell direct off the catwalk, and explains his reasoning thus: ‘The internet allows me to reach and interact with customers in a new way; it’s the future.’
And, as ever in this fast-paced digital arena, Burberry has more up its (cotton gabardine trench) sleeve. In April Iwear launched on the Burberry site, following several emerging bands and an as-yet-unannounced female performer on tour with performances and behind-the-scenes footage streamed on Burberry.com and YouTube – proof, if proof were needed, that after more than 150 years Burberry still has innovation woven into its very DNA.